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Review: This Is My Mother


- Agnès Jaoui and William Lebghil dazzle as they tread the fine line between comedy and tragedy in Julien Carpentier’s incredibly charming and moving first feature film about bipolar disorder

Review: This Is My Mother
Agnès Jaoui and William Lebghil in This Is My Mother

"Did you call the clinic? – No, I didn’t know what to do, I called you first." When your mother who lives with bipolar disorder slips out of the facility she’s been admitted to and bursts into your life like a hurricane, anxiety, onerous responsibility, guilt and bad memories abound. But, fundamentally, there’s also love. This is the highly sensitive subject - to be broached without sliding into drama - that Julien Carpentier has taken on in his debut feature film, This Is My Mother, which was awarded the Audience Award at the Angouleme French-Language Film Festival and the High Schoolers’ Prize at the Royan Film Festival, and which is due for release in French cinemas on 6 March, courtesy of KMBO.

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"I feel more like a cop than a son". For thirty-year-old Pierre (William Lebghil), the day looks set to be a tricky one. Having woken up at dawn, like every day, to go and negotiate with wholesalers, in the company of his assistant Ibou (Salif Cissé), over the flowers he needs to fill his shop, he suddenly finds himself called to his grandmother’s aid: "your mother’s here". Pierre has to drop everything as a matter of urgency, including his burgeoning affair with his friend (Alison Wheeler), because, sadly, he is only too familiar with the bipolar cycles and swiftly uncontrollable, delirious highs suffered by his mother Judith (Agnès Jaoui), who is already buzzing gleefully and wreaking havoc in the family apartment. "As soon as we’ve left, call the clinic, tell them that I’m bringing her back". Under the pretext of a visit to the cemetery and to his father’s grave, Pierre (who hasn’t seen his mum in two years) bundles Judith out of their home. But things rapidly veer off course, because it’s no small or simple thing to get a loved one sectioned against their will…

Unfurling over a mere 24 hours, the story penned by the director together with Benjamin Garnier pinpoints the deep, emotional stakes of the circumstances (their painful past, the tumultuous present, their uncertain future…) perfectly. Dispensing crucial information as and when required, the film progresses at a blistering pace, with its  two main protagonists constantly on the move. But the film also gently conveys the heartbreak that comes with bipolar disorder (for the leading lady who is under no illusions as to her fragility, and for her son who is torn between necessity and bottled-up feelings) and slowly works to rebuild its characters’ bonds and tease out their emotions, all with great simplicity and without fear of making people laugh about a subject whose comical side can only be explored with great tact. It’s a brilliant work which takes a respectful approach to bringing a "difficult" subject into a mainstream cinema world, which owes a lot to the somewhat exceptional performances of Agnès Jaoui and William Lebghil, and which speaks to all of us, because, as Arno’s closing song stresses, "there is always a light in my mother’s eyes".

This Is My Mother is produced by Silex Films and sold worldwide by Be For Films.

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(Translated from French)

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